Isn’t She Dovely? Social Experiments

Dove’s Dovely ads are thought-provoking but don’t always hit the mark

In a series spanning the last several years, Dove has been using corporate video to advance the narrative that women are their own harshest critics when it comes to beauty and appearance. The “social experiments” they’ve conducted have turned the typical messaging of a women’s skincare brand on its head, with mixed results.

The most effective was certainly the “Real Beauty Sketches” video that was the most-viewed video ad campaign of 2013, earning over 135 million views in that year alone. In it, women were asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist from behind a curtain. The artist created a portrait, and then created a second portrait based on a second description, this time given by the woman’s partner in the experiment. The differences in the portraits were staggering, making a powerful point about how unforgiving women can be about their own appearance.

But the ads haven’t always hit the mark. Several have received criticism for being treacly and disingenuous, and it’s been observed that there is an inherent hypocrisy in Dove’s parent company Unilever creating brand messaging for Dove that challenges women to overcome the very stereotypes perpetuated by the advertising for Axe, another of its product lines.

The latest entry is the “Choose Beautiful” video that was filmed in various international cities. Signage was placed above the entrances of shopping centers gave women a choice to walk through one of two doors – one labeled “Beautiful” and one labeled “Average”. Posted just two days ago, it already has 2.5 million views. The premise is that whether because of insecurity or humility, most women will identify as average and walk through that door, but they won’t feel great about it. Conversely, embracing whatever it is about themselves that makes them feel beautiful and walking through that door makes women feel empowered and “triumphant”. It’s easy to pick apart the construct (how many women would actually want to walk through either door, since they’d clearly just wandered into a Dove ad or some other staged event?), but I submit that it was incredibly affecting (at least for this mom) to see the teenage girl walk toward the “Average” door only to have her mom grab her and pull her through the “Beautiful” door instead. The message in that moment – I see your beauty and I want you to see it in yourself – was genuine and very moving.

Personally, I’ve found the ads thought-provoking (if not always completely authentic) and I appreciate that the campaign has consistently featured women of all shapes, ages, and colors. The fact that “Real Beauty” is a marketing strategy doesn’t diminish the too-rare impact of seeing these types of real (and beautiful) women being represented.

What do you think?